Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Aung San Suu Kyi to address the concerns of Myanmar’s Rohingya during his visit to the country over the weekend. The BBC:
Mr Kerry said he had discussed the “very sensitive” and “divisive” Rohingya issue with Ms Suu Kyi.
“I know it arouses strong passions here,” Mr Kerry said, addressing a joint news conference in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. “What is critical is to focus on is solving the problem… which is improving the situation on the ground, to promote development, promote respect for human rights and benefit all of those that live in Rakhine and throughout Myanmar.”
Suu Kyi has taken a lot of heat from Western NGOs over the Rohingya issue, and the U.S. government has been pushing her to do more to protect the persecuted Muslim minority. Yet, as we’ve written, she’s probably doing about as much as she can given Myanmar’s internal political dynamics. Myanmar’s Buddhist majority has never looked favorably on the Muslim minority, and Suu Kyi can’t side with the minority and still remain in power. It’s not pretty, but that’s politics.
Human rights activists have repeatedly struggled to grapple with the complexities of geopolitics in Southeast Asia. In Thailand, human rights concerns led the State Department to let the government move into China’s orbit. And after this week’s decision to lift the arms embargo on Vietnam, NGOs have condemned President Obama for not taking a tougher stand against Hanoi’s human rights abuses. In Myanmar, we’re seeing much the same thing.
Human rights are important, but the big picture is too: China is gaining power in Asia, and it’s scaring other powers in the region. Those countries are looking to ally with the United States to put pressure on Beijing. The United States shouldn’t ignore human rights, but it shouldn’t ignore these geopolitical realities either.